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East County Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 5 months ago

Lakewood Ranch apartment project advances

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County commission also denies commercial project at State 70 and County Road 675.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Davis Development can move forward with an application to develop a five-story, 175-unit apartment complex on Health Park Way, across from Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and directly behind The Venue apartment complex.

Manatee County commissioners on Jan. 24 unanimously supported a request by Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and apartment developer Davis Development to allow a single means of access to the two-level parking garage planned for the project.

County code requires communities with more than 100 homes to have two means of egress and ingress. Planners for the project said the site itself will have two access points, but there is only one means of access into the parking garage, which will be wrapped by apartments.

The code requirement typically applies to suburban areas to help ensure public safety, but public safety officials have approved preliminary designs.

Manatee County commissioners called the project more urban in design and said it made sense.

“This is absolutely appropriate in the town center area,” Chairwoman Betsy Benac said. “I think it is time for us to have more urban design.”

The approval also amends the general development plan for the University Lakes Development of Regional Impact. It trades 36,250 square feet of community commercial space and 178,256 square feet of business for 175 residential units and 75 hotel rooms.

In another decision, Manatee County will not allow a 1.5-acre site at the corner of State Road 70 and County Road 675 to have commercial zoning.

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously to deny a request for a rezone from agriculture to planned development commercial. The proposal included allowing up to 12,000 square feet of commercial space on the site, located at the northeast corner of the intersection.

Commissioners said they worried about traffic on S.R. 70 and also did not believe the request complied with the county’s comprehensive plan for development.

Chairwoman Betsy Benac pointed to development policies that steered commercial development away from rural areas and said that she did not believe every intersection of thoroughfare roads should be automatically considered for commercial development.

“I believe there are uses that today can be done on this site, such as office,” Benac said.

Under the existing agricultural zoning, such uses as a veterinary clinic, equipment sales and agriculture are allowed with administrative approvals from county staff. No public hearing would be required.

Commissioners heard initial plans for the project in November 2019. At that time, Tony Veldkamp, representing Manatee Ranches Inc., said the property owners had intended to build a “neighborhood country store” on the site. It would sell general items, such as milk and supplies, and have a few gas pumps to service the area.

Neighboring residents, however, opposed that concept because they did not feel commercial development was compatible with their rural community, and they worried fuel from the gas station would leak into the water supply and contaminate their well water. The area is outside the county’s water treatment boundaries, and all residences there are on septic systems. When commissioners indicated they would not support the proposal, Manatee Ranches asked for a continuation.

Manatee Ranches’ new proposal would have reduced square footage from 15,400 to 12,000 square feet, deleted an access from the S.R. 70 exit ramp and revised allowable uses to eliminate construction of an alcoholic beverage establishment or a gas station. It proposed the changes based on feedback from residents.

“I’m very disappointed,” property owner Tom Brown said. “We thought we did everything right. We’ll revisit it.”

Neighbors of the project said they were grateful for Manatee Ranches’ concessions but believed the property should remain agricultural as commissioners decided.

“It’s a great decision,” resident Shelana Hodge said. “It’s not appropriate for that location to have a commercial building.”

Commissioners will complete their denial of the project at their March 5 meeting, after the county attorney’s office has had time to provide written documentation of reasons for the denial, as required by law.

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